I review The Damnation of Pythos, the 30th novel in the multi-author Horus Heresy series, written by David Annandale and published by Black Library.
In the aftermath of the Dropsite Massacre at Isstvan V, a battered and bloodied force of Iron Hands, Raven Guard and Salamanders regroups on a seemingly insignificant death world. Fending off attacks from all manner of monstrous creatures, the fractious allies find hope in the form of human refugees fleeing from the growing war, and cast adrift upon the tides of the warp. But even as the Space Marines carve out a sanctuary for them in the jungles of Pythos, a darkness gathers that threatens to consume them all…
As I recently mentioned in my review of Ahriman: Sorcerer, I would be returning to reading Black Library fiction on a regular basis and I made my decision to make The Damnation of Pythos my next novel that I would pick up, mainly because not only have I been impressed by what I’ve read of David Annandale’s work in the past, but also it’s The Horus Heresy, and that series is one of my go-to reads for some awesome science fiction action and more often than not, the novels frequently deliver, and I think it's safe to say that The Damnation of Pythos is yet another great entry into the series, even though it might not be a perfect one.
First off, it’s another excellent Black Library cover. They’ve been really great when it comes to artwork and The Damnation of Pythos is no exception, an excellent image picturing Iron Hands battling daemons. It also gives you an great idea as to what’s happening in the novel, with it following the adventures of a small group of Iron Hands, Raven Guard and Salamanders Space Marines who are regrouping following the Dropsite Massacre of Isstvan V. They’re wearied, battered and bloodied as they begin to create a Sanctuary on the world of Pythos, unaware that they may be stumbling into what might be their own demise.
The biggest problem that I have with the Horus Heresy series is that for the most part, you know what’s going to happen due to the various Codexes that have already summarized what’s happened in these events. As a result the outcome is often never in any doubt, and you know for example what will happen to the major players like Horus and Abaddon. However, with The Damnation of Pythos, and its decision to focus on an event and characters that I wasn’t familiar with at all, the aura of unpredictability was still there and I didn’t know what would happen next. It was a refreshing experience and as a result my interest was captivated all the more, even if the title may have hinted and ending, like most of The Horus Heresy series, would not be the happiest one ever.
The book itself delves into the horror elements of Warhammer making it a welcoming change of pace for the series, as it’s something that hasn’t been explored as well as it should have been given the potential available. Most stories attempt to focus entirely on the action, but this story allows an increased level of suspense and tension which readers will enjoy for sure. And on top of that, Annandale manages to not fall into the trap that so many other horror writers fall into by making the characters do stupid things in favour of plot advancement, which is great to see.
The Damnation of Pythos offers a lot of answers to just what the Iron Hands got up to following Isstvan V. I don’t remember that much about them in the Heresy and I think this might be their first novel in the series, so it’s fascinating to see them explored here, with some interesting characters that aren't just bland stereotypes of what their members of their legion might be and a good split between the human serfs of the Iron Hands Legion and their superhuman masters, with Annandale avoiding simply using the non-Space Marine characters just as plot devices which other writers have done in the past to great effect.
The pace remains pretty fast throughout The Damnation of Pythos and is rarely a dull moment, with Annandale managing to create a great atmosphere for the book which really works.
However, The Damnation of Pythos is sadly not perfect. If you want to focus on the main events of the Horus Heresy then this book can be skipped in the overall scale of things, as it does not make any momentous leaps forward in terms of plot advancement. That is probably the novel’s biggest flaw but if you can put that aside then it remains very enjoyable indeed and certainly something that Horus Heresy fans and those looking to read more about the Iron Hands Legion will get the most out of.
Annandale is certainly an author who I would love to see revisit the Horus Heresy again as he always brings an alternative approach to Black Library novels, and you never quite know what to expect. The focus on horror is welcomed and engaging and it’s good to see that the storyline isn’t as predictable as other Heresy novels have been.